What Scares You Will Be Its Soul: My Dead Girlfriend and Project: Dark-Seed

This post contains horror, disturbing images and, worst of all, *spoilers.* Reader’s discretion is advised. 

When Dream created the Corinthian a long time ago in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, his original aim was to construct a sentient dream that represented humanity’s fear of its own darkness. In the end, of course, he became more like a simple serial killer than anything as grand as a being that could make dreamers face the worst parts of themselves.

Corinthian Uncreated

The Corinthian’s initial failure as a dark mirror in which humanity could see the other part of its soul is a fitting metaphor when you hear discussions about the horror genre: particularly how gore and spectacle can take precedence over slow, creeping, uncanny elements out of the corner of your eye and the fear of the unknown or the forgotten.

And then you have creepypastas.

Kris Straub is already doing a web series called Scared Yet in which he looks at and dissects creepypastas: examining how they work, and how they don’t. He said once, in his now defunct Ichor Falls Blog, that many creepypastas fall into a formula or a series of tropes. You know: Jeff the Killer that is the result of bullying and acid being thrown on his face becoming ala the Joker analogue, a whole series of cursed video games bought from a creepy old man who may or may not vanish after a purchase, every story about Disney symbolizing institutionalized and secretive evil, and all the rest of it.

Many beginning writers can do this: they find stories that appeal to that part of them and they imitate them. Even so, many of these pastas have somehow become viral memes as they tap — sometimes even in a shallow manner — into that sense of universal horror and dread in humanity.

But then there are others …

There. Are. Others.

I have talked about Candle Cove before: created by the aforementioned Kris Straub. But a few days ago this little gem manifested itself:

My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook. I’ve got the screenshots. I don’t know what to do. It is a story that was created on a subreddit called r/nosleep: where people seemingly write stories that commenters respond to as if they are real accounts. You can find a more polished version of it right here. But in many ways the original is much more diabolical and I will explain why.

First of all, like Candle Cove, it uses its medium to effect. But while Candle Cove emulates a Message Board, complete with user typos and all that loveliness, My Dead Girlfriend is already on a subreddit: a forum that functions as a series of comments stacked up on each other in a grey background with faded white fonts.

But goes further than that. My Dead Girlfriend also has links to what seem to be screen captures of Facebook Private and Public Chats. It utilizes Tags in empty spaces. And then there is the writing style to consider. While Kris Straub utilizes typos in Candle Cove, natesw or Nathan — which I suspect are personas — writes this from the first-person in something of a epistolary format: a series of journals or reports of the phenomenon occurring. Moreover, the writing from natesw’s persona on r/nosleep is clear, with no typos whatever, and possesses proper sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.

Yet the Facebook Chats he has “screen-captured” have the typos and fragmented sentences. And the dialogue between him and his dead girlfriend gets juxtaposed and played with like a twisted form of poetry. These two modes, the first-person of the subreddit text and the third-person and visual aids of the Facebook images complement each other. Unfortunately, if you go by the subreddit the ending could be lost: if it is indeed the ending.

Read the second, cleaner tickld version though: and look at the very last image that it shows you.

Creepy, no?

Remember, you have to find Candle Cove. My Dead Girlfriend finds you.

Ghost Writer

It’s still finding us. When Candle Cove was first sent to me, it had been around for a few years. Right now, though, My Dead Girlfriend is still spreading.

And the story had me before that image too. My friend and I were talking about this into the wee hours of Sunday and she told me that it had her at “FRE-EZING.” This was the only original word that “Emily” was able to construct, or revealed. You see, we never know whether Nathan’s torment is the result of a sick hacker, Nathan’s own subconscious mind projecting the grief of his trauma into messages from Emily, or … the fragments of Emily’s traumatized essence not completely realizing that she is dead and going to the place and person that she knows more than herself: perhaps even trying to make up for the reluctant displays of affection that she showed Nathan in life before she died on her way to their apartment.

Basically, the story is left open-ended. And there is the challenge in the recipe right there. You have to basically know that balance between detail and that open-endedness. If you have too much detail, people will question the specifics and your creepypasta will deflate into skepticism. On the other hand, if you are too grandiose and you try to encompass everything your structure will either never grow or will fall apart at the seams.

I think one element to know what medium you want to use and how you want to structure it. At the same time, you need to know what story you want to tell. Images, photoshopped or otherwise, help too. Another advantage that My Dead Girlfriend has is the fact that it has many commenters either playing along (being the poster’s friends or general fans of the subreddit) or are so taken by the Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds Effect that they are genuinely giving the poster natesw advice. But this story also manages to tap into the general and the specific. The characters and personas have names. There are dates. The accident that took Emily is revealed in slow and painful detail. The uncanny is tapped.

And that is the difference right there: that last ingredient. You can study the remnants of a miracle, but you can’t really reconstruct its soul from what is left. Or, in my case and in the case of other writers, you can’t create an original soul of a new story by purely examining leftovers alone.

I can tell you how these stories work, but it’s like deconstructing a joke. It’s just not funny after. It’s just not horrifying. And anything that I make from this, as it has been a long-term goal of mine to create a viral horror meme after my girlfriend had showed me Candle Cove, would just be a shallow or empty form.

I have many ideas for a creepypasta. It was the very aim of my Project: Dark-Seed. But after that conversation with my friend last night, I realized something. I realized just why the Corinthian was such a failure to Dream.

Dream even admitted that the fault was his own. Dream created the Corinthian to embody humanity’s fear of its own darkness, but despite the fact that Dream is an embodiment of the sentient impulse of imagination and dreaming, he isn’t human. Until his imprisonment in Preludes and Nocturnes, and slowly before with his human friend Hob he never tried to get close enough to humans to actually understand their perspective.

Dream could observe human darkness, but he didn’t really know how they experienced it. He couldn’t relate to his audience. The Corinthian, who was intended to be a classic horror tale became a gory spectacle because he only engaged humans on that superficial level. Unlike Dream’s other stories, other dreams and nightmares, the Corinthian wasn’t made from a pre-existing concept or a sentient being made into something more. He was Dream’s attempt at original creation and imitation of life and he failed.

He was an empty shell that tried to fill himself with gore and eyeballs and attention. As Dream’s creepypasta to humanity, the Corinthian falls short. That is the same reason why some creepypastas and horrors stories fail because the creator doesn’t try to relate to their audience. In terms of comedy, the joke doesn’t amuse them.

The story doesn’t scare them.

But what would have happened if the Corinthian scared Dream? What would have happened if Dream thought about what scared him and made the Corinthian in that image? What happens when a horror writer creates a monster that scares them, that makes them feel goose flesh at the mere thought of it: of that thing at the corner of their consciousness that they logically know can’t happen or exist, but deep down knows?

Who knows. Perhaps Dream’s re-creation of the Corinthian after his own imprisonment and exile changed the model. Perhaps he just needed a catalyst to tap him into that deep black pool of universal horror and white noise, take a piece of it, and fashion from its substance a soul to fill the emptiness.

Static

Perhaps a creator only needs to find something to be scared of in order to create a nightmare that can be shared with the world.

Now if that isn’t the beginning of a story of one’s descent into creative damnation, I don’t know what is. The powers help me. I think I have been writing too much in hell. But the moral of this story is that some people like their pastas filled with gore or emptiness.

I like my pastas to be filled with darkness: from the heart.

Corinthian

Anonymous

I think I was the only person who was so happy to see her. And I was so happy. So eager.

I was tired, you see. But I wasn’t tired from a life of too much work. I was a writer: a story-maker. Every time I got the chance, I’d sit down in the early morning or late at night and write about the things that mattered to me. I admit, most of the stories I wrote were purely for my own self-gratification: because they were stories I wanted to read and I was the only one who could write them the way I saw them. I’ll also admit that many of them were very personal stories or based on my own experiences.

And–more often than not–the main protagonist was always me.

But whenever I finished what I did, letting the gross black weight drain from the interior of my skull onto paper and screen, I knew I couldn’t go any farther than that. It wasn’t the blank page that stopped me, or the scribbled out words, or even the spectre of a deadline. It was never even the pressure to live up to the shoulders I barely tottered on. I told her, in the end, that my fear was the rejection of the work that is myself.

And so I stopped.

I crawled away from the meta-fictional eyes of the audience. I showed my work to fewer and fewer people and of these people, some of them even turned on me: taking offence to something I could deny no more than my own name.

I was guilty of a very thin skin, and if writers are liars then failed writers are cowards.

Then, after I got a good, real, and sensible job the stories finally died. But the thin skin stretched too far over the moment I crept away from and the ghosts of ideas screamed silently behind my eyes: unrequited and hungry.

So when she came, I was relieved. I was so relieved to finally make the pain stop. I hated myself. I asked her for oblivion. She said no, of course, but this should not have surprised me. I know that she knows that there is somewhere for everyone. I took her pale hand. It was surprisingly warm. She told me there was someone I needed to meet.

I found myself in a great and familiar hall. She was gone and at first I thought I was alone in this great ornate emptiness.

Then, I saw him.

It was horrible. I found myself shaking on the floor in shame. He asked me — if “asking” was the right verb to describe any words that came from his mouth — what I wanted of him. I knew who he was. I wished for death and realized the irony of my thoughts. I asked again for oblivion.

He looked down at me with those terrible, beautifully infinite dark eyes and told me not to lie to him again. People who pass through the Gate of Horn are not allowed to tell lies, he told me.

I remember opening my mouth to speak again when suddenly images, symbols and ideas themselves seemed to burst out from the back of my mind instead. I didn’t understand their language — which was more song than words — yet at the same time I did. He looked at me for a long time. He told me that I was a vessel of the stories and that I had denied them. There was no forgiveness in his tone, but neither was it an angry one. The sheer disappointment in his glittering eye was worse than any fury he was capable of.

Underneath that gaze, I wanted to die again forever.

But he refused me. It was not his place, he said. However, even though my potential in the conscious world was over, my words — if that is what they are in dreams — expressed my wish: my real wish. He compelled me to follow his eyes to … a large series of bookcases ascending into the sky.

I am allowed to stay here indefinitely. Sometimes, I read the books from those shelves. An older thin man with a long nose and spectacles occasionally keeps me company. But most of the time, I am at a desk: writing on thin dream-paper with the black of a raven’s wing. When I’m done, the crane-like man takes my finished papers and stacks them into books that he puts on the shelves: though sometimes he will take the time to make a fine point of correcting my grammar.

Occasionally, he will stop in, look at my “progress,” listen to the ideas singing themselves into the paper, then nod to himself and leave. Sometimes, she comes back and tells me that everything I make is beautiful. I know she has nothing but good things to say about anyone, but coming from her those words are no less special.

Then, sometimes in my room, another woman with golden hair comes to hold me at night and I cry into her arms. Aside from the one who brought me here, she understands me and forgives me the most.

But mostly, I write my stories for a library that doesn’t exist with its shelves sometimes floating in the sky and always filled with imaginary books. It reminds me so much of what I did when I was alive. Sometimes dreamers find their way here and read my books, only to disappear and forget all about them again.

None of them know my name and I continue to write my stories in books of air: happily.